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CommopORE STEPHEN DECATUR is of French descent by the male line. His grandfather was a native of La Rochelle, in France, and married a lady of Rhode Island. His father, Stephen Decatur, was born in Newport, (Rhode Island,) and when a very young man removed to Philadelphia, where he married the daughter of an Irish gentleman by the name of Pine.
He was bred to the sea, and commanded a merchant vessel out of the port of Philadelphia until the establishment of the navy, when he was appointed to command the Delaware sloop of war. He continued in her until the frigate Philadelphia was built, when the command of that ship was given to him, at the particular request of the merchants, who had built her by subscription. In this situation he remained until peace was made with France, when he resigned his commission, and retired to his residence a few miles from Philadelphia, where he resided until his death, which happened in November, 1808.
His son, STEPHEN DECATUR, the present commodore, was born on the 5th January, 1779, on the eastern shore of Maryland, whither his parents had retired, whilst the British were in possession of Philadelphia. They returned to that city when he was a few months old, and he was there educated and brought up.
He entered the navy in March, 1798, as midshipman, and joined the frigate United States, under the command of Commodore Barry, who had obtained the warrant for him. He continued for some time with that officer, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. The United States at that time required some repairs, and, not wishing to remain in port, he requested an order to join the brig Norfolk, then bound to the Spanish Main. He performed one cruise in her, as first lieutenant, and on his return to port, resumed his station on board of the United States, where he remained until peace was concluded with France.
He was then ordered to the Essex, as first lieutenant, and sailed with Commodore Dale's squadron to the Mediterranean. On the return of that squadron he was ordered to the New-York, one of the second Mediterranean squadron, under the command of Commodore Morris.
When he returned to the United States he was ordered take command of the Argus, and proceed in her to join Commodore Preble's squadron, then in the Mediterranean, and on his arrival there to resign the command of the Argus to Lieutenant Hull, and take the schooner Enterprise, then commanded by that officer. After making that exchange he proceeded to Syracuse, where the squadron was to rendezvous. On his arrival at that port he was informed of the fate of the frigate Philadelphia, which had ran aground on the Barbary coast, and fallen into the hands of the Tripolitans. The idea immediately presented itself to his mind of attempting her recapture or destruction. On Commodore Preble's arrival, a few days afterwards, le proposed to bim a plan for the purpose, and volunteered his services to execute it. The wary mind of that veteran officer at first disapproved of an enterprise so full of peril; but the risks and difficulties that surrounded it only stimulated the ardour of Decatur, and imparted to it an air of adventure, fascinating to his youthful imagination.
The consent of the commodore having been obtained, Lieutenant DECATUR selected for the expedition a ketch (the Intrepid) which he had captured a few weeks before from the enemy, and manned her with seventy volunteers, chiefly from his own crew, He sailed from Syracuse on the 3d February, 1804, accompanied by the United States brig Syren, Lieutenant Stewart, who was to aid with his boats, and to receive the crew of the ketch, in case it should be found expedient to use her as a fireship.
After fifteen days of very tempestuous weather, they arrived at the harbour of Tripoli a little before sunset. It had been arranged between Lieutenants Decatur and Stewart, that the ketch should enter the harbour about ten o'clock that night, attended by the boats of the Syren. On arriving off the barbour, the Syren, in consequence of a change of wind, had been thrown six or eight miles without the Intrepid. The wind at this time was fair, but fast declining, and Lieutenant Decatur apprehended that, should
he wait for the Syren's boats to come up, it might be too late to make the attack that night. Such delay might be fatal to the enterprise, as they could not remain longer on the coast, their provisions being nearly exhausted. For these reasons he determined to adventure into the harbour alone, which he did about eight o'clock.
An idea may be formed of the extreme hazard of this enterprise from the situation of the frigate. She was moored within half gun shot of the Bashaw's Castle, and of the principal battery. Two of the enemy's cruisers lay within two cables' length, on the starboard quarter, and their gun boats within half gun shot, on the starboard bow. All the guns of the frigate were mounted and loaded. Such were the immediate perils that our hero ventured to encounter with a single ketch, beside the other dangers that abound in a strongly fortified barbour.
Although from the entrance to the place where the frigate lay was only three miles, yet, in consequence of the lightness of the wind they did not get within hail of her until eleven o'clock. When they had approached within two hundred yards, they were hailed and ordered to anchor, or they would be fired into. Lieut. Decatur ordered a Maltese pilot, who was on board the ketch, to answer that they had lost their anchors in a gale of wind on the coast, and therefore could not comply with their request. By this time it had become perfectly calm, and they were about fifty yards from the frigate. Lieutenant Decatur ordered a small boat that was alongside of the ketch, to take a rope and make it fast to the frigate's fore chains. This being done they began to warp the ketch alongside. It was not until this moment that the enemy suspected the character of their visitor, and great confusion immediately ensued. This enabled our adventurers to get alongside of the frigate, when Decatur immediately sprang aboard, followed by Mr. Charles Morris,* midshipman. These two were nearly a minute on the deck, before their companions could succeed in mounting the side. Fortunately, the Turks had not sufficiently recovered from their surprise to take advantage of this delay. They were crowded together on the quarter deck, perfectly astonished and aghast, without making any attempt to oppose
* Now Captain Morris of the Adams.
the assailing party. As soon as a sufficient number of our men had gained the deck, to form a front equal to that of the enemy, they rushed in upon them. The Turks stood the assault but a short time, and were completely overpowered. About twenty were killed on the spot, many jumped overboard, and the rest fled to the main deck, whither they were pursued and driven to the hold.
After entire possession had been gained of the ship, and every thing prepared to set fire to her, a number of launches were seen rowing about the harbour. This determined Lieutenant Decatur to remain in the frigate, from whence a better defence could be made than from on board the ketch. The enemy bad already commenced firing upon them from their batteries and castle, and from two corsairs that were laying near. Perceiving that the launches did not attempt to approach, he ordered that the ship should be set on fire, which was done, at the same time, in different parts. As soon as this was completely effected they left her, and such was the rapidity of the flames, that it was with the utmost difficulty they preserved the ketch. At this critical moment a most propitious breeze sprang up, blowing directly out of the harbour, which, in a few minutes, carried them beyond the reach of the enemy's guns, and they made good their retreat without the loss of a single man, and with but four wounded.
For this gallant and romantic achievement, Lieutenant Decator was promoted to the rank of post captain, there being at that time no intermediate grade. This promotion was particularly gratifying to him, inasmuch as it was done with the consent of the officers over whose heads he was raised.
In the ensuing spring, it being determined to make an attack upon Tripoli, Commodore Preble, obtained from the King of Naples the loan of six gun boats and two bombards, which he formed into two divisions, and gave the command of one of them to Captain Decatur, the other to Lieutenant Somers. The squadron sailed from Syracuse, consisting of the frigate Constitution, the brig Syren, the schooners Nautilus and Vixen, and the
Having arrived on the coast of Barbary, they were for some days prevented from making the attack, by adverse wind and VOL. I. New Series.
weather; at length, on the morning of the 3d of August, the weather being favourable, the signal was made from the commodore's ship to prepare for action, the light vessels towing the gun boats to windward. At 9 o'clock the signal was made for bombarding the town and the enemy's vessels. The gun boats were cast off, and advanced in a lipe ahead, led on by Captain Decatur, and covered by the frigate Constitution, and the brigs and schooners. The enemy's gun boats were moored along the mouth of the harbour under the batteries, and within musket shot. Their sails had been taken from them, and they were ordered to sink, rather than abandon their position. They were aided and covered likewise by a brig of 16 and a schooner of 10 guns.
Before entering into close action Capt. Decatur went alongside each of his boats, and ordered them to unship their bowsprits and follow him, as it was bis intention to board the enemy's boats. Lieut. James Decatur commanded one of the boats belonging to Lieut. Somers's division, but being further to windward than the rest of his division, he joined and took orders from his brother.
When Capt. Decatur, who was in the leading boat, came within range of the fire from the batteries, a heavy fire was opened upon bim from them and from the gun boats. He returned their fire, and continued advancing until he came in contact with the boats. At this time Commodore Preble, seeing Decatur approaching nearer than he thought prudent, ordered the signal to be made for à retreat; but it was found that in making out the signals for the boats, the one for a retreat had been omitted. The enemy's boats had about forty men each; ours an equal number, twenty-seven of whom were Americans and thirteen Neapolitans. Decatur, on hoarding the enemy, was instantly followed by his countrymen, but the Neapolitans remained behind. The Turks did not sustain the combat, hand to hand, with that firmness they had obtained a reputation for: in ten minutes the deck was cleared ; eight of them sought refuge in the hold; and of the rest, some fell on the deck, and others jumped into the sea. Only three of the Americans were wounded.
As Decatur was about to proceed out with his prize, the boat which had been commanded by his brother came under his stern, and informed him that they had engaged and captured one of the